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The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act and What it Could Mean for U.S. National Parks

Hunting has been prohibited in most U.S. national parks for some time; that could soon be changing. The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, or H.R. 4089, could permit hunting in sections of the National Park System that currently do not allow it. The bill, simply put, aims to enhance the opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting....

Hunting has been prohibited in most U.S. national parks for some time; that could soon be changing. The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, or H.R. 4089, could permit hunting in sections of the National Park System that currently do not allow it. The bill, simply put, aims to enhance the opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting.

According to Elise Russell Liguori, legislative representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act is a compilation of three bills: One involved increasing access to hunting on federal land, while the other two included recreational shooting on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and importing certain polar bear remains from Canada.

Fording the River
Bison populations, currently protected in places like Yellowstone National Park, could be at risk. Photo courtesy of Jonmikel and Kathryn Pardo.

The Natural Resources Committee decided to introduce the new bill to the U.S. House of Representatives. Representative Jeff Miller, R-Fla., presented the bill to the House on February 27, 2012. The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act passed with a bipartisan vote of 274 to 146. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of implementing the legislation would be approximately $12 million over the next four years.

The legislation’s purpose is to increase opportunities for hunting on federal land, largely targeting BLM and Forest Service lands. However, the current language leaves open the possibility of hunting in national parks that currently do not permit it.

Ligouri, like most, hoped the language in the legislation would be resolved with time. “When the bill was introduced last year, we hoped this was simply an oversight that would be corrected,” she said on NPCA’s blog Park Advocate.

While it does not overtly include national parks, H.R. 4089 does fail to exempt many types of parks that currently do not allow hunting, such as battlefields and historical sites. According to Ligouri, H.R. 4089 puts many parks and monuments at risk, and its language would allow the Secretary of the Interior, for example, to open parks like Yellowstone or monuments like Devil’s Tower to hunting.

Hunting in Mt. Rainier National Park? Photo courtesy of Jonmikel and Kathryn Pardo.

“There’s no reasonable justification for giving anybody that option. So there are two issues,” said Ligouri. “First, the bill doesn’t exempt all the different kinds of national park units; but second, even the so-called exemption in the bill doesn’t really protect any national park or monument.”

NPCA Director of Government and Legislative Affairs Kristen Brengel said that hunting in the parks is absurd.

Would we interrupt school field trips at Fort McHenry to use the seagulls for target practice?” said Brengel on Park Advocate. “Hunt for squirrels at the Liberty Bell? Shoot clay pots at Chaco Culture National Historic Park?” There is already ample land devoted to hunting, she continued, and hunting in national parks could cause harm to people visiting and enjoying them.

One of the forms of recreation currently allowed in U.S. national parks. Photo courtesy of Jonmikel and Kathryn Pardo.

While people would be burdened with hunters roaming through the parks, wildlife would also be negatively affected. The National Park Service states that national parks were created to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein.” According to Ligouri, parks are historically places where wildlife can go to regenerate when populations begin to suffer. Then hunters can hunt them on neighboring lands when the numbers begin to grow again.

The idea of giving animals a place to go in order to help regrow their populations was first thought up by President Theodore Roosevelt. One of Roosevelt’s most lasting and significant contributions to his country was his want to preserve its wildlife. He saved some of the country’s most unique and natural resources and placed 230 million acres of land under public protection.

There are approximately 70 national parks that already permit hunting through their enabling legislation. In addition, most BLM and Forest Service lands allow hunting, adding up to millions of acres of public land. During hunting season, hunters know where they have access and people enjoying the public lands know when they need to take extra precautions while enjoying public lands. However, this mutual understanding is not as clear when people step foot in a national park. In the majority of parks that do not allow hunting, according to Brengel and NPCA, it is prohibited for a good reason.

“To superimpose a requirement that allows hunting and target shooting would take away from the traditional experience that people are used to having when they visit national parks,” said Brengel. “A hunting provision is contrary to the fundamental purpose of those hundreds of other units.”

Yellowstone River & Livingston Peak
Fishing is also currently allowed in many national parks, and many forms of similar recreation could become more dangerous during hunting season under the Sportsmen's Heritage Act.

On the other hand, some feel very strongly that the bill is fair and needed. According to Chris Cox, executive director for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA supports the legislation because preserving the hunting heritage and protecting gun rights are among its top priorities.

“This bill prevents the Obama administration from eliminating the right of hunters and shooters to use traditional ammunition,” said Cox in a press release. “We must expand and enhance hunting and shooting on Federal lands to ensure that hunting is accessible to all – and this bill does just that.”

Overall, H.R. 4089 could take away people’s feeling of safety while in national parks but could also give hunters additional accessibility and freedom. How do we balance these needs? The bill is set to go to the Senate soon, where it will be up for a vote.

— Jordann Dillard

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